Self-Determination

 

One of my facebook contacts recently posted a link to a piece from RezNet about an article titled “Aboriginal Sin” by Jay Adler which appeared in the Jewish-based magazine, Tikkun.  I found myself pausing over the following sentence:

“Having grown up around African Americans in New York, he [Adler] had always appreciated their plight. But he also began to wonder why indigenous issues in America were never discussed on a national level the way black issues were.”

This came up again today when I was doing some reading for my online “Federal Indian Law & Policy” course.  This week we’re studying the time period from about 1945 (Termination) up to the present (Self-Determination).  I’m not sure how prevalent they were, but there was a brief period of time when the American Indian Movement caught the national spotlight, especially with the nineteen-month occupation of Alcaztraz Island from 1969-1971.  (As one of my readings stated: “The Alcatraz occupation drew wide public attention, and resulting support lasted several years.  Then in 1971, when federal officials found that public interest in Indian causes had waned, they quietly removed the demonstrators from the island.”)

Why is it that indigenous issues have been ignored on a national level for so long?  Was it due to a general fatigue about civil-rights issues in general?  Not that there isn’t the occasional bit of native news, however, many of (the few) native-related articles from the national media that I can recall have had negative connotations.  There have been articles about Indian casinos, an illegal Makah whale hunt, and a six-month old baby being taken from his adoptive parents and returned to the Ojibwe Tribe.  From the Alcatraz example, it seems apparent that public interest is closely tied to federal policy and actions, so I can’t see that the lack of national awareness about American Indians is a good thing.  As a potential solution, I’ll offer up another quote from one of my class readings called “Destination: Determination”

“For the last 100 years of Indian policy in the United States, assimilation has crept into the actions of legislators.  It has become apparent that to achieve the type of society required for self-determination, the Indians of the United States will have to unite within tribal affiliations for a sense of identity to continue the society.  Along with the civil rights reform and education acts of the 1960’s and 1970’s, questions of economics and land holdings add to the list of concerns for American Indians in their quest for an identity as a nation.”     

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